What are the routine tasks that are core to your business? How many of those duties do you still do on paper or in compartmentalized, limited and generally outdated data processing systems? Maybe you have made the leap to Excel or Access, but even these electronic formats seem to fall short in efficiently delivering robust and portable information to your organization, clients, and vendors. This is where Business Process Automation can help you and give you a substantial advantage over your competitors.
Business Process Automation (BPA) takes something that is done manually, or in multiple systems, and combines it into one seamless system. Once the process and data under one roof, other efficiencies can be explored. Computers are very good at following commands and doing repetitive tasks, why not take those tasks out an employee’s hands and let the computer do them and leave the interesting tasks for people? The less time spent on repetitive tasks, the more time that can be spend devoted to creative and specialized procedures, which no box of computer chips and wires can accomplish.
Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the cloud, the internet of things (IOT) and other emerging technologies have rendered so many routine tasks capable being automated, as well as sophisticated, decision-based procedures. With these profound advancements, all organizations should take a hard look at BPA to see how it can incorporate it into their digital transformation. As BPA has permeated every sector, in businesses both large and small, its adoption a matter of ensuring continued survival. Every business can be certain there are competitors in the marketplace who have fully embraced BPA to streamline and reduce overhead and now pose a significant, competitive threat.
Below is an explanation of different types of BPA and the components involved. This article will serve as a link to all of them. Each of those sub-articles will each be able to stand on their own, but this article will link them together. Check back often to find updated information.
Reasons you need BPA
Many businesses perform a process that is critical to them in Excel and Access. This works reasonably well while the amount of information is relatively small and only one or two people need to get to the data. Once a business starts getting a bit of history and the size of the data grows, and as more users and systems need access to this information, the process can become unmanageable. For example, in Access, there are file size limitations. This causes a business process slowdown as files must be compacted and repaired constantly.
In Excel, the size of the data can become unmanageable very quickly. How many tabs can a person reasonably keep track of at one time? And once they start linking to external data sources, it is critical that the connected link never move or become unavailable, or the entire process falls apart. Very quickly it can become a house of cards and if one card moves or slides just a little, the rest of the house crumbles down.
3. Inaccessibility – The file is locked
File locks can be an issue too. Frequently, in Excel or other applications the file that needs to be edited is locked? Sometimes you are listed as the person who has it locked, and how do you fix that?
4. Back-up Complications
If files are all stored in different locations and different machines, backups can quickly become an issue. Making sure the data that is crucial to gets backed up should be important to any business. It is imperative to make sure if a file gets deleted accidentally, or the file becomes corrupt, that a backup is available and be a recent copy. In a worst-case scenario such as a natural disaster or fire, it is critical that data can be restored, and that the business can be run from a separate location.
5. Saving Errors
One of the issues faced without a centralized system is the capture and reporting of errors. Let’s face it, errors happen from time to time. There’s really no way around it. Every major software vendor releases a constant stream of error fixes. It would be naïve to think all work is completed error free. So, assuming there will be errors, it is important they are identified as soon as possible. This can be an impossible task while using multiple programs that are built on each other. It may not be possible to see the error in Excel while working with the data in Access, if the error is even ever identified. Beyond that, there is no central repository of the errors to examine.
6. Update Complications
The way data is stored can become an issue as well. As data comes in over time, it is not always segmented and split up properly. This leads to the same data in several spots. It can also lead to repeating data when only one copy is needed. In either case, updating the data becomes an issue. Now that the same data is in different locations, each instance of the data must be reviewed to update it.
I like to use the example of Customer Name. Say you have an Excel spreadsheet that lists the customer name, it seems that updating the name should be a simple task. But let’s say that the name is also stored in an Access database that holds invoices for that customer. Now to update the name of the customer, you need to do it in both locations. Now, if that is the only two locations you have Customer Name, it doesn’t seem so bad. But imagine you have more information such as contacts at the customer, locations, phone numbers, shipping and billing addresses, etc. You have to remember to go to each place and change the Customer Name. Not only that, you need to keep track of each one that got updated to make sure you got them all. Not an easy task.
Things you can do with BPA
1. Seamless back-end
• One environment
A single environment allows for a much more efficient and manageable environment than a string of PCs or less powerful servers. Many publishers license their software on a per-server basis, so multiple servers mean additional costs. Data moves much more quickly within a single environment than from environment-to-environment. This results in faster processing for applications that access databases. Any audits necessary become much more manageable.
• Enterprise level servers
It is not uncommon to find servers that are little more than glorified PCs, which have often been used to reduce costs. Consolidating these in an enterprise level server allows for advanced customization to better serve the owner. If the enterprise level server is owned by a third-party host, offsite, then real-time scaling, which adds or removes resources such as memory, disk space or even entire servers, as needed, is possible. With a centralized server, 24-hour access is ensured, as unlike individual PCs, these are not shut down at the end of a workday.
• No application limitations
In environments that have not been BPA optimized, users often are forced to shoehorn forms, databases, and reports into a packaged application, which ends up sacrificing function, convenience, and preferred appearance. With customized BPA, organizations get exactly what is ideal for their installation, resulting in a better experience for the business and its clients. The only limitation with customized BPA solutions becomes the capabilities of hardware on the market or the budget allocated to hardware.
• Import automation from external sources
Frequently, off-the-shelf applications do not support automated import for all data sources a business might need. There are also feeds which need scrubbing before import. In these instances, manual intervention is necessary, and a drain on productivity. A custom BPA solution can alleviate either of those problems and consequently the inefficiencies associated with them.
• Back-up best practices
Backups and restorations are more difficult to govern when data is stored on desktop PCs. Typically, backups of desktops will take place during non-office hours; however, sometimes the user may have turned off their unit, making it impossible. Restoration is a nightmare in this scenario, as there are more machines to revive and it may not be clear which should receive priority. A centralized database, implemented with BPA, on an enterprise-level server, allows for more frequent backups (often throughout the day), without interruption of service or reliance on individual desktops to be powered up. In the event restoration is needed, it is a much quicker and more orderly process.
• Applying one rule to multiple applications
Regulatory compliance, internal processing time limits, signoffs, style guides (font, color, etc.), and any other guidelines may be controlled across all applications. Lacking automation, this is tedious and error-prone demand, as different processes are frequently subject to disparate policies. BPA ensures the proper rules are applied and adhered to for each unique process.
• Applying data across multiple departments
Some departments rely on the same data to complete critical processes, while others may not require access to that data but could benefit from seeing it. A mortgage application, for example, cycles through many departments. Each add their input or verify that all traps (is this the right word?) have been run. However, generally it wouldn’t move through the marketing group, yet some of the information collected could be of value in helping to design and execute advertising campaigns. Robust BPA environments allow wide access to data, while strictly controlling permissions, so it is easy to accommodate the marketing group, used in this example.
Introducing software systems to automate repetitive processes can provide quality productivity around the clock for many procedures. Computers don’t need to sleep. If programmed correctly, they provide consistency and do not make mistakes. Online systems also provide access for monitoring production levels at any time with real-time information.
• Better performance
BPA allows departments to do more with less. An automated process can eliminate or drastically reduce complications or issues, while also reducing employee hours and time frames. Automated processes maintain a consistency that is comprehended and followed every time. This eliminates missed advances and mistakes often found in manual procedures, bringing about predictable, dependable measures to assist in making decisions and executing procedure upgrades.
2. Data accessible in multiple applications
• No repeating
Another data problem, frequently encountered in a collection of legacy programs is many must access the same data, yet, lack automated connectivity. Sometimes, the workaround for this is to duplicate databases or for a worker to transfer the data manually. The same is true for updating databases and is equally as inefficient. A complete BPA overhaul will include the ability for all applications to touch the same database, without manual intervention.
3. B2B or B2C portal
• Single sign-on
A BPA makeover offers a chance to revamp security procedures. Although the security and identity needs are well understood, clients recognize access should only be granted to authorized personnel and a system needs to pull a user’s data, the process is still not loved. In some environments, users must sign in multiple times to access different resources, which is a real annoyance. In a comprehensive BPA retooling, single sign-on may be applied, allowing customers to navigate through all of the systems they may need to, in order to complete a transaction.
• Social site sign-on
Similar to single sign-on, there are a number of authentication schemes, such as OAuth, OpenID, Facebook Connect, and others, which allows users to access a new site by simply clicking on a button, labeled with a particular social media site. What distinguishes this feature from single sign-on, is with these authentication schemes, users can move across completely unrelated sites, without entering IDs and passwords. Conversely, single sign-on only applies to a particular set of related systems (like the same company or website). Authentication schemes are loved by users, and can substantially increase traffic, so they should be included, when possible, in any BPA revamp.
• Wider audience
Big Data has made more valuable information available for organizations, both internally and externally. The human resources necessary to manually gather the external or distribute the internal wealth of data is beyond the reach of most businesses, and extraordinarily inefficient. However, with automation, this data is easily and quickly accessed, processed and complied.
4. Lower cost of ownership
• Reduce human error
Following implementation of BPA, errors are substantially reduced. With manual systems, a missed decimal point on a payable or an order can result in too much being paid for an invoice or too much product being shipped. Both of these are common occurrences in manual environments, along with many other types of errors, which are eliminated with automated processing.
• Ongoing savings
Imagining an automated process to can reduce the need for one employee is a small-scale view regarding the type of financial savings a BPA can produce. Labor costs are often reduced during the implementation of an automated process. Reducing the need for human involvement also reduces the possibility of human error and overhead costs associated with fixing mistakes. Automated systems provide the level of consistency required to build efficiency. Automated systems never ask for a raise.
• Easy to maintain
Legacy environments often lack the ability for real-time and thorough monitoring. Centralized and uniform systems, inherent to BPA, are easier to monitor for performance. This allows for quicker response to anomalies and more accurate projections of looming problems. System updates, security patches, changes in operating procedures are all streamlined. All of which make the life of the IT and their dependent departments easier, and simultaneously reducing costs.
• Reduced training
Facilities that have undergone a BPA transformation have a much easier time with onboarding. Not only is the time and associated costs reduced in training new employees on automated systems easier, but also more employees are capable of mastering the simple tasks. Jobs that may have previously called for highly-trained personnel can often be performed by lower-skilled (lower salary) workers.
• Smarter and faster decision making
BPA will not automate all functions, as some require a personal touch. However, by getting the proper information to customer service rep, who has a customer on the phone, or to a manager making staffing decisions, these and other procedures can be accomplished faster and more thoroughly.
• Employee satisfaction
Another upside of BPA is happier workers. Creative types loathe monotony. Consequently, many will leave a job where the work is not challenging. These same folks may also make mistakes on routine tasks, as they find it difficult to focus. Maybe worst of all, the efforts spent on mundane procedures deprives bright and creative workers of the opportunity to enhance services, design new products or find other ways that significantly add to a business’s offerings.
• Collect and measure data
Transitioning to BPA provides for far greater management of indices. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are a great mechanism for determining past, present and even future performance. However, collecting the data needed to calculate these indicators and compiling it into useful and attractive forms can be labor intensive. BPA to the rescue, again, as the entire process can be automated, and easily digger deeper and more often than a single worker or team ever could.
• Streamline and improve performance
BPA entails far more than merely taking existing processes and improving them. New processes should be considered, looking both within one’s sector to see what competitors are doing and beyond to see what other types of businesses have implemented. A talented BPA outfit can invariably offer suggestions, which a business may not have considered, along with optimizing existing processes and business objectives.
• Reduce turn-around times
Eliminating manual efforts for automation will accomplish more in a smaller amount of time. Also, due to the consistency of automation processes, modifications can be made to the process effectively, making even better use of time.
• Records and regulations
Businesses who have not adopted BPA usually struggle to keep up with the ever-changing and growing body of rules, which they may endure. Federal, state and even local governments all have some fairly stringent laws dictating how and what information is to be maintained. Tied to it are some pretty hefty penalties that can run into millions of dollars in for non-compliance. Some violations also include jail time as a possible penalty for violations. Additionally, professional organizations and accrediting institutions will frequently publish rules on data maintenance, which, if not adhered to, can lead to fines or loss of accreditation.
• Do more with fewer people
It is human instinct to search for a less demanding and additionally more productive approach to complete tasks. From the most simplistic, to the more difficult processes at hand, automation of tedious procedures is the key to working smarter, not harder. In business – time is money. Some repetitive processes conducted by humans can cost more, take longer and leave room for human error. Employees may also be better utilized within the organization performing critical thinking assignments not suitable for automation. By integrating Business Process Automation, or BPA, to specific operations, the benefits stand to provide a quick return on the investment, and in turn, increase the bottom line.
A good example of what a business can expect to achieve, through BPA, is a recent CodingInnovations.com retooling of an industrial and architectural manufacturing firm’s systems. This business has 19 branches, which previously had relied on a manual process to fulfill orders. There were 1000s of SKUs to check, with no inventory control, so workers often just guessed whether a product was in stock. Errors were frequent and costly. Working with this company’s staff, CodingInnovations.com mapped all fulfillment processes and implemented an automated inventory-control system. After this BPA makeover, 95% of orders were automated, requiring no human review. Order errors fell to nearly zero. Time and money savings were enormous. Customer satisfaction soared and worker frustration dropped.
This all makes a very strong case for the implementation or expansion of BPA. One of the best ways to determine how your operation can benefit from BPA is through consultation with CodingInnovations.com. CodingInnovations.com can not only automate many existing processes but can suggest new capabilities to improve customer experience, increase revenue growth, and reduce in operating costs.